MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — The mother of Etan Patz relived the heart-wrenching day her little 6-year-old son vanished — his first day walking to the school bus stop alone on Prince Street — as she testified in Manhattan Supreme Court Friday morning.
Wiping tears from her face, Julie Patz told jurors that the moment she was told Etan never made it to school on May 25, 1979, all she remembered was a feeling of "total horror and panic."
"My legs started giving out," she said, her voice breaking. "I started having difficulty breathing."
With her gray hair swept up in a loose bun, wearing all black, Patz took the stand Friday morning, the second day in the retrial of her son’s accused murderer, Pedro Hernandez.
Last year, during Hernandez's first trial, which ended in a hung jury, the long-suffering mother of three also walked through that terrible day for a courtroom of jurors.
Etan disappeared without a trace some 37 years ago, after convincing his mother to let him walk less than two blocks to his bus stop on his own from the family’s Prince Street loft — an apartment the Patz family still lives in.
As she was questioned by prosecutors Friday, Patz described how her "loving" little boy, her middle child, was a “sensitive” and social child, who loved "all people" and especially loved his collection of Matchbox cars.
"He was a very trusting soul," Patz recalled of her first grader, before describing the last time she ever saw her "sweet" Etan. She watched him walk a block, to Wooster Street, then headed back in to her third floor loft, to her 2-year-old son.
Etan had convinced his mom to let him walk by himself to the bus stop, as his older sister was refusing to wake up that morning.
"Etan was up and dressed and packing his own lunch," Patz said. "He was going to do it all himself that morning."
She never saw her son again, she said, but in the decades since he went missing, it's been very hard to move on, for her and her family.
The family has been inundated with false leads, people showing up at their home claiming to be Etan, calls from delusional people claiming they have tips. Despite the calls, the family has never changed their phone number.
In May 2012, 55-year-old Hernandez confessed to police that he strangled Etan in the basement of a bodega that was right by the child’s school bus stop, on West Broadway and Prince Street.
The small, cramped bodega was a place the neighborhood children and parents frequented.
Prosecutors contend that Hernandez, who was 18 when he allegedly killed Etan and worked in the bodega, has been hiding details of the murder for decades.
Hernandez's lawyers say he suffers from delusions and he made a false confession. They, instead, are squarely placing blame for Etan's disappeance on Jose Ramos, a convicted child molester, currently in jail in Pennsylvania, who dated a woman that walked Etan to school during a bus strike in the weeks before his disappearance.
Police have found no physical evidence to corroborate Hernandez's story. He's been in jail since his arrest in May 2012.
Etan was one of the first children to appear on milk cartons after he disappeared. Despite a lengthy police investigation after he went missing, his body was never found.
He was declared dead in 2001.
Hernandez's retrial is slated to last for about three months.